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A Major Diplomatic Rupture – But why?

SANDY GRANT
I turned on Sky News this morning (Friday) and was treated to news about an exhibition at Buckingham Palace in London of some of the gifts that have been presented to the Queen over the years.

There, surely, on the right hand side of the picture, was an Odi weave. These things are distinctive and I doubt that I could have made a mistake. I learnt recently that the government had presented another weave to the government of Mozambique when that country became independent in 1975. It puzzles me that more is not made of such achievements, as achievements they undoubtedly are. So now we need to know if the government did indeed present an Odi weave to the Queen?

What else could it have given her? But are there relevant records and if not, will anybody remember?  But what a curious scenario! Anyway, the last few weeks have been perhaps the most dramatic in the last 50 years. There was the death of that remarkable pioneer, Patrick van Rensburg.  There was the lavish, money no problem, annual congress of the BDP and then the mayhem at the two BMD meetings, the death of ex President Masire and the undignified whiff of division over his funeral, the continued rumblings regarding the Gripen jet fighters, and, not least, the weird, bewildering affair of the Dalai Lama about which so many questions remain unanswered.  The invitation, if you recall, was made to him by the Mind and Life Institute here, the government’s endorsement of the visit, and the news that the President would deliver the opening address.

Then came China’s riposte, followed by government back pedalling, the attempts by the press to try and explain why the government was so intent on giving China a black eye, then further denials, and then finally, the announcement that the invitation by the Mind and Life Institute had been withdrawn and the ‘never involved’ government would no longer be issuing the required visa.  So that, seemingly, is that! But in reality, it cannot be that simple.  By Googling, I learnt that the focus of the Mind and Life Institute in the States is on the ‘scientific understanding of the mind, contemplative sciences, contemplative practice, neuroscience, meditation, phenomenology and consciousness’. 

It may be, I suppose, that there is indeed a presumably small, registered Mind and Life Chapter in this country which is hooked on such esoteric interests. No disrespect intended, but it does come as a surprise that the President, as the principal speaker, might also have listed any of these topics amongst his major interests.  Be that as

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it may, the question remains - why would this Chapter have decided to invite the Dalai Lama in the first place? If the President, as announced, was to be the key speaker it must be obvious that the local Chapter had issued its invitation after it had prior consultations with the government and achieved its approval for doing so. On the other hand, it is equally possible that it was the government which had encouraged Mind and Life to issue the invitation. 

But why would it have done so?  If it had decided that it needed to swat at China’s ankles, it would have considered the options available to it and perhaps finally, when it had run out of ideas, decided that its best bet was to use the Dalai Lama as a means of provoking it. It can be argued,  I suppose that the government had no idea at the time, that the invitation would so outrage the Chinese government and that it was subsequently astonished to learn of its reaction. 

This suggestion, with the obvious implication that it doesn’t know what it is doing, is hardly flattering to the government. On the other hand, all the indications indicate that the decision to invite the Dalai Lama was made deliberately, not out of ignorance.   If this is indeed the case, it would appear that for the government, the forced abandonment of the visit is merely a setback and that its concerns about China that had precipitated this move still remain in place and unalleviated.   Astonishing as it may be, the possibility exists that it sees the Dalai Lama affair as a temporary set back and that it is, even now, exploring the other options. 

Can that really be in the country’s best interests?   But what, in particular saddens me about this whole affair is that so obviously, the worldly wise Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the most respected men in the world, has been used as a pawn in a political power game. It may be that he, and his advisers, should have anticipated the way that China would react to the invitation and that both for his own sake and that of this country, he should have politely declined to come here. Could all those involved really be as naïve as now seems to be the case? 

 



Etcetera II

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